World News

Putin chief of staff may be next Moscow mayor: paper

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s chief of staff has emerged as a front-runner for the post of Moscow mayor, Kommersant reported on Saturday -- a job in which he could help win votes in the 2011 parliamentary poll.

Putin met members of the ruling United Russia party on Friday to discuss who could replace Yuri Luzhkov, ousted this week after 18 years in power, as the boss of the capital city and its 1.1 trillion rouble budget.

Sergei Sobyanin, Putin’s chief of staff and a deputy prime minister, was the only one of possible candidates mentioned in the media to be present at the meeting.

The chances of Sobyanin obtaining the post have now increased, Kommersant wrote, citing sources.

“According to Kommersant’s information, he does not feel great joy about this. But the party could say: ‘It is necessary’,” the business daily wrote.

A strong and popular Moscow mayor is seen as crucial for United Russia to win votes in the 2011 parliamentary elections, following Russia’s worst recession in 15 years in 2009 and the record heat wave and toxic smoke which clouded the capital this summer.

Other candidates include Putin’s long-time cabinet ally, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu who enjoys some of the highest popularity ratings, and Alexander Khloponin, a former business executive who now serves as Russia’s envoy to the turbulent North Caucasus, according to local media.

Sobyanin, 52, is a lawyer by education, comes from the north of Russia and is married with two daughters.

By law, United Russia must present its candidates to President Dmitry Medvedev within 14 days of the previous incumbent’s departure, and he then chooses.

President Medvedev dismissed Luzhkov by decree on Tuesday, seeking to impose his authority after the veteran mayor criticized him then defied pressure to resign. (Writing by Toni Vorobyova; editing by Tony Austin)